Utah Trip Part 1 (Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Cedar Breaks and Mammoth Cave in Dixie National Forest)

Friends and I spent a week exploring national and state parks in Utah and Arizona.   

Saturday 9/24 - Zion Park, Kolob Canyons Entrance and Timber Creek Overlook Trail 

Our first stop after landing and getting the rental car was the west entrance to Zion National Park.   We arrived as the sun was setting and hiked the short Timber Creek Overlook Trail (1 mile round trip) to watch the sunset.

Despite it being a beautiful Saturday evening there were very few people in this part of Zion.  The entire 5 mile drive to the trailhead was filled with amazing views.  

The trail itself was relatively easy and the perfect end to a long day of travel.  Here is a short YouTube video I made from the overlook. 
Sunday 9/25 - Cedar Breaks National Monument, Mammoth Cave, Bryce Canyon

Located north of Zion and west of Bryce, Cedar Breaks National Monument gets significantly less visitation than it's neighbors despite amazingly beautiful scenery.   The park is above 10,000 feet elevation, resulting in thinner air and colder temperatures.   

After watching the sunrise from the North View Overlook, we started the first hike of the day at the Alpine Pond Trail.  This loop trail meanders through spruce, fir and aspen forests and meadows to excellent views of the park's amphitheater.   We started from the south parking lot and did a 1.4 mile loop to the Alpine Pond.  The lower part of the trail skirts along the rim of the amphitheater and then switchbacks up to the pond.  

We visited the other overlooks in the park before heading to our next destination.  Here is a short YouTube video of the view from the start of the Ramparts Trail.
After leaving Cedar Breaks we stopped and explored Mammoth Cave in Dixie National Forest.  The cave is one of the largest lava tubes in Utah with over 2,200 feet of passage.  The cave was formed during volcanic activity a few thousand years ago.
We spent the afternoon at Bryce Canyon National Park hiking the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trails.  This is the most popular hike in the park as it provides diverse scenary including open views, hoodoos and tall limestone walls.  Although at times the trail felt crowded at other times we had the trail to ourselves.  There was a particularly beautiful section at the lowest elevation where the trail flattened out and went through a more forested area.  

After the hike we ate at the Bryce Lodge and then explored the rest of the park by car and the sun set.